Mao and Confucius Go Mano a Mano in Tiananmen Square

January 14, 2011 § 9 Comments

In an historical twist that ranks pretty high on the irony scale, Confucius and Mao Zedong are now going mano a mano in Tian’anmen Square.

In this Square, atop the Tian’anmen Gate, Mao in 1949 proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China to to the Chinese people and the rest of the world.  And in this Square hangs the iconic 15-by-20-foot oil painting of Mao—the one that has long been beamed into our living rooms by the nightly news.

In this Square, too, Mao launched the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s-70s, a key part of which was an anti-Confucius campaign calling for the total obliteration of the “feudal” thinking and feudal social practices associated with the Confucian tradition.  Loyal Red Guards, heeding Mao’s call, wrote in the People’s Daily (1/10/67):  “To struggle against Confucius, the feudal mummy, and thoroughly eradicate …reactionary Confucianism is one of our important tasks in the Great Cultural Revolution.” And then, to make their point, they went on a nation-wide rampage, destroying temples, statues, historical landmarks, texts, and anything at all to do with the ancient Sage.

But now, just two days ago (on Wednesday January 12), in this same Square, an imposing, 30-foot bronze statue of Mao’s old enemy–and China’s ancient Sage–Confucius, was erected.

It stands at the northern gate of the National Museum of China, facing Mao’s dimpled portrait.

It’s safe to assume that the Great Helmsman would not be happy sharing his space with the ancient Sage.  But what’s this statuary-portraiture showdown at Tian’anmen about?

It’s certainly not one that could easily have been imagined even a few short years ago.  But Confucianism is now enjoying a revival.  Government officials quote from the Analects ­of Confucius, the publication of books about Confucius and his teachings is flourishing, and the study of Confucian thought and writings has taken hold in universities—as well as in primary and secondary schools.

How sincere and how enduring is this so-called Confucian revival?  We can’t know–yet.

But what we can know is that by placing the 17-ton bronze statue in such a favored, almost sacred, space, the Chinese government is lending its unambiguous endorsement to the Sage’s resuscitation.

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